Here it is, the last post (for the foreseeable future) of my trip to South Africa. I’ve enjoyed blogging so much and it is definitely something I intend to keep up. As promised, I have set up another blog, which I will try to post as regularly as I can, on anything and everything. I have kept up the enchanted theme, so if you fancy a read please take note of my new blog – www.enchantedeternity.wordpress.com
Excuse the slightly cheesy name, I wanted something generic and without going into it all, I guess it is sort of philosophical which suits my nature.
Anyway, back to Africa!
This is one of the things I’ve been most looking forward to sharing – my last day at the school! I hadn’t been aware that anything special would happen. I didn’t expect it, of course – I didn’t go to volunteer to get praise for my work. And I think that is what made the teachers’ and students’ showering of appreciation even more special. Also, I had had fears and self-doubt that my work wasn’t benefiting the children. This was not so much the case for the Grade 1 class as I was only assisting the teacher and helping in the English classes, but myself and Diane (another volunteer) planned and led the lessons ourselves, often without the guidance of a teacher overseeing the behaviour and helping with the language barrier. More than anything, I wanted them to enjoy the classes that I was teaching and make school a fun environment for them, because for many, their home environment and childhood has been tough and I wanted to bring some light relief, if only for a short time.
I couldn’t have been more wrong when I was called in to my Grade 7 class towards the end of the school day. There were approximately 60 pupils in the room, alongside the two arts and culture teachers I had been working with. They had prepared 4 songs which they sung for me – some in Xhosa and some in English. The songs were about happiness, being part of a big family, and their gratitude. The songs were touching and many of them are such naturally talented singers but their harmonies and the emotion they conveyed through their singing is what made this such an overwhelming moment for me. I am surprised that I didn’t cry, because usually this is the sort of thing that has me weeping within seconds, but I think the energy and atmosphere was so positive and celebratory that I couldn’t feel any sadness. Of course, though, I did lament that I would have to leave these children.
Even now, 3 months after my trip, I still think of the children that I met and whose lives I touched, and the ones that also touched mine. I’m a soppy soul as it is, but this trip really was a life changing experience for me. It does make me sad to think of those children now when I live in such privileged circumstances. It also makes me sad that I’ll most likely never see them again, and I wish I could have done more. In the future, I am hoping to continue my support for the school and the township community. Travellers Worldwide puts some of the volunteer’s trip fees back into the school, so not only is every volunteer helping children academically and pastorally, but economically too as they are providing funding for new additions to the school. The most recent of those, which I was there to witness, were two outside taps that were installed to provide fresh water for the pupils – essential particularly in the intense summer weather.
Even though I claim this to be the last post, I have some recordings of the children singing – in lessons, assemblies and on my last day however it is finding a way of transporting them from that device (a dictaphone) onto here. When I get time to explore a way to do this, no doubt I will upload these also. Their voices are spectacular!
Also, the celebrations didn’t end there. After a thank you speech from one of the arts and culture teachers, the children came up and presented me with hand-made cards all kept in a little hand-made envelope. It was presented to me by one of the students I had been teaching, who in her best English (which was very good), she introduced herself and gave a little speech as to how much she had enjoyed my classes and all the things she had learnt and found fun. It was such a great feeling to know that the children had learnt and retained the knowledge from the exercises and classes I had taught them.
All of the cards had lovely messages in them, and I thought I would include one or two of them here:
Thanks for your help we love you so much I wish you will come back to give us love that you gave us. I thought this will never end, but now I have seen that it will end. Thank you very much we love you and we will always love you forever and ever more we will miss you and we will miss your moves. Have a nice trip/a safe flight.
This one made me laugh:
I have to say that I enjoy your company and the activities that you do with us. If you were from here in South Africa I would say don’t leave Chris Nissen stay with us and keep on doing your very good work. I enjoyed that hip hop you were doing with us. And hip hop does suit you because your body yhoo! It is so flexible and beautiful like you I must say you have a beautiful tattoo and voice and when you talk. You talk so that everybody can understand you. We love you so much!!! From Nato”
There were so many letters and they were all so personal and kind. I got all the children to sign their names on my tshirt and then they all swarmed me and wanted me to write my name on their tshirt! It was very funny, and I wasn’t sure if I should deface their uniform but no one seemed to mind and I was suffocated by all 60 children wanting my signature. I felt like a celebrity!
This little “ceremony of thanks” ended with all of the children (round about 60, maybe more) lining up and one at a time hugging me and saying goodbye. Some of the girls kissed me on the cheek and looked genuinely so upset to see me go, saying “goodbye, I love you”. I thought the boys might be apprehensive about hugging me. Put this situation in the UK and you would not see boys of 13-16 wanting to hug an older girl/woman – it would not be cool and they would certainly not be enthusiastic. Admittedly, some of the boys’ hugs were brief and I completely understood that they felt uncomfortable but some of the boys seemed really thankful and it was so nice to see. One of the boys who was very talented particularly in his comedy acting improvisations, had really connected with the work I had taught and been very enthusiastic throughout my classes, came up to me with a big grin on his face and hugged me. He held that hug on for that extra second longer and that very nearly set me off. I really felt his gratitude.
After my farewells to the children, I went into the staffroom where I was greeted by a selection of food and a card and gift basket of food and drink from the teachers. This school has so little, yet they had still all clubbed together to get me a gift. The principal personally thanked me, despite having to ask me my name so he could write my card. I didn’t mind at all, it just made me laugh!
It was a great day, followed by another visit to the children’s home. I spent my last evening with the other volunteers and we went out for a lovely meal at an Italian restaurant. It was the perfect day to end my trip!
I think this about sums up everything I wanted to say, although I could ramble on for much longer and relive each moment all over again. I fell in love with the country, and I fell in love with volunteering and helping those who are disadvantaged. This was a great first experience for me, and one of many to follow.
This opportunity wouldn’t have been possible for me so early in my life without the generous donation of the Hervey Benham Charitable Trust, so I want to end this blog with a heart felt thank you for allowing me to venture into two of the most greatest weeks of my life.
Thank you for all that have read along as I recounted my journey, donated towards my trip and supported me emotionally when I completely freaked out at the enormity of the trip I was about to undertake. Please take a look at my new blog if you have liked what you have read. Admittedly, the first post was written very late at night and is a bit all over the place and the layout needs some work but hopefully it’ll be on its feet soon.